You Say You Want a Revolution

What is it that “social media” actually does?

Does it sell? Does it change opinion? Does it foment revolution?

If you believe the digibabblists, it does all of the above…and more.

Truth is…the death of one of my great heroes, Nelson Mandela, got me thinking.

Clearly, Mandela led one of the great revolutions of all time…and without Facebook or Twitter.

Let me preempt the knee jerk “imagine if he had digital social media at his command!!!”

Fact is, I can do better than imagine – let’s look at the Arab Spring…according to some a pure outcome of the power and effect of digital:

Wired…”The Arab Spring has shown the world what is possible when you combine social unrest with brave citizenry and powerful digital tools.”

Or this:

PolicyMic …”Twitter Revolution: How the Arab Spring Was Helped by Social Media”: “In countries like Egypt, Tunisia, and Yemen, rising action plans such as protests made up of thousands, have been organized through social media such Facebook and Twitter. The role that technology has taken in allowing the distribution of public information had been essential in establishing the democratic movement that has helped guide abused civilians to overthrow their oppressor.”


The New Yorker…Malcolm Gladwell’s argument about the connection between digital tools and social change…”Where activists were once defined by their causes, they are now defined by their tools. Facebook warriors go online to push for change.”

HMMMMMMMM…where are we today?

I don’t mean for this to be a political screed so I will stop right here. My point is to highlight what causes long-term change as opposed to what helps us communicate better or more efficiently.

The power of the Mandela revolution can be found in young black South Africans learning Afrikaans because they like the language; it is manifest in the pictures of all peoples, of all colors and religions, embracing in tears in the streets of South Africa; it can be seen in the lives of the “born frees,” who today make up 40% of the population of South Africa…also called the Mandela Generation because they look to the future and not to the past.

Again – let me preempt – South Africa is not a utopia, Mandela was not a saint and the country has a long way to go – but one thing we know for sure, it is never going back.

So like the Soviet Union falling apart, like the Berlin Wall falling and like the end of apartheid in South Africa…outcomes were dependent upon people and their keen desire to change the status quo.

We live in an amazing age where technology gives us all a power that would have seemed Godlike only a century ago. But that power is just a lot of software and hardware without content, and the content is just data without relevance, and relevance is created by people…by you…and has nothing to do with technology.

So if you are planning a revolution – by all means create your Facebook presence and get your Twitter tweeting…but remember the American and French Revolutions, the Potemkin, Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King and the following:

Time‘s People Who Mattered 2011…”The protests have marked the rise of a new generation….Technology mattered, but this was not a technological revolution. Social networks did not cause these movements, but they kept them alive and connected. Technology allowed us to watch, and it spread the virus of protest, but this was not a wired revolution; it was a human one, of hearts and minds, the oldest technology of all.”

But most of all remember the memory of Nelson Mandela, who managed to ignite the attention and passion of the world without a single digital post…listen:

For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.” Nelson Mandela

It is now in the hands of your generations to help rid the world of such suffering.” Nelson Mandela

The future is in our hands…and minds…and not just in our tweets….

What do you think?

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